The Unforgiven

Michael Schenker Group

Shrapnel Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


You've got to hand it to German guitarist extraordinaire Michael Schenker. Despite the rises and falls in the tide of popularity that hard rock/heavy metal has faced, he's continually risen above the waves to put out music that has appealed to the masses.

You also have to hand it to him that, in the face of a revival in popularity of metal, Schenker didn't just turn up the volume knob on his Flying "V" and set out to shred the eardrums of listeners as a "welcome back". On his latest album with the Michael Schenker Group, The Unforgiven, Schenker seems to put more of a focus on the rhythm guitar work and more subdued solos. In retrospect, this was the smartest move he could have made.

Working again with a backup group of musicians you probably haven't heard of - vocalist Kelly Keeling, guitarist/keyboardist Seth Bernstein, bassist John Onder and drummer Shane Gaalaas - Schenker walks the line for all 12 songs between the sheer power of hard rock and the more sensible nature of popular music. Some might sneer and say that such a mixture could never work. However, Schenker proves quickly that it indeed does work, and his band makes it work well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Ironically enough, it does take some time for Schenker and crew to build up a good head of steam. The first few tracks, such as "Rude Awakening," "Hello Angel" and "The Mess I've Made," are okay efforts, but they don't seem to hold the promise of something special in the works. Musically, they are sound efforts - but more often than not they seem to be fighting to work their way into the background.

Fortunately, things start to click on songs like "Fat City N.O." and "Tower," songs that show just how good this band is. Keeling's vocals are pure and powerful, while Schenker seems to put his attention on creating more harmonious, controlled solos - certainly a far cry from what some would have expected from him. But Schenker is definitely onto something with this approach; by controlling his output on the electric guitar and mixing it in with some brilliant acoustic work, he actually displays his six-string skills better than if he had attacked his axe in full-shred mode.

The bulk of The Unforgiven continues in this powerful vein. "Pilot Of Your Soul" and "The Storm" are wonderfully beautiful tracks that highlight the best this incarnation of the Michael Schenker Band has to offer, while others like "Live For Today" and "Forever And More" are almost as powerful, but are equally worth your attention.

Some fans of good guitar work might not see the different approach that Schenker takes towards his playing as a step in the right direction; in that case, they're not looking at the whole picture. It would have been easy to turn The Unforgiven into a showcase piece for Schenker's pyrotechnics a la the glory days of heavy metal. Instead, Schenker helps to show that hard rock, like all forms of music, must evolve in order to continue to live. In the case of The Unforgiven, despite a slow start, Schenker shows that he's adapted quite well, thank you.

Rating: B

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Shrapnel Records, and is used for informational purposes only.